All Around Us, Narendra Modi’s Messiah Image Is Quickly Fading

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The growing loss of faith in the prime minister arises from the same source from which faith had been generated: his self-centredness.

Amit Shah, Narendra Modi

File photo of PM Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. Credit: PTI

Remember the year or so prior to the May 2014 elections? The adoring Indian media could not imagine how the country had survived without Narendra Modi for 67 long years. Every little speech of his in a remote high school or a Delhi college became the news, wiping out all other national or international events – good, bad or indifferent – for a day-and-a-half from TV screens. The social media, such as it was, wouldn’t tire of singing songs of gratitude for being around when the messiah had made his appearance. The messiah himself added all he could to the making of the myth around him. In his speeches, he invariably asked his massive audiences what had they gained in the six decades or so since independence, and the audiences loudly responded with “zero”, which in any case is an Indian invention. All was set to change to a golden age, “achhe din” in 60 months, he said reassuringly. Of course, just about 31% of those who actually voted – and thus around 21% or 22% of the total electorate, or around 12% of the Indian people – fell for his reassurances. But given the nature of our first-past-the-post democracy, this was enough to become a massive mandate.

Has the tide begun to turn? With all the messiah’s promised and unpromised actions falling flat – and more devastatingly being seen to be falling flat – and with “others” having caught up with social media, no prime minister in one’s living memory has been, and is being, lampooned daily on WhatsApp, Facebook and other social media as much as Modi, and I have been around long enough to witness the oath taking of all prime ministers from Jawaharlal Nehru onward. The lampooning comes in jokes, cartoons, videos, in reminders of what his dear colleagues like Uma Bharati had to say earlier of his “vikas purush” image (“vinash purush”) and above all in replaying video clips of his own wild promises.

Quiet lampooning in a prevailing atmosphere of fear is always the most devastating challenge to authority; the Soviets discovered it at a high cost when the lampooning of leaders, and indeed the whole system, hit its peak in the 1980s. Rumours are another, which eroded Indira Gandhi’s emergency regime.

Also read: No ‘Achhe Din’ Here – The Modi Bubble Has Now Burst

With Modi’s tall promises visibly collapsing, all the schemes he launched with a lot of fanfare and hyperbole coming a cropper, his disastrous experiment with demonetisation and the “tryst with destiny”-style launching of the atrociously-managed Goods and Services Tax, his brand as the messiah who will lift India from its morass seems inevitably to have faded, and that too in a short three-plus years.

If the legitimacy of several earlier prime ministers fell through quickly, the reasons were faction fights or incoherent coalitions. None of these are relevant to the current scenario, where an enviable majority and popular acceptance and acclaim gave Modi a solid opportunity to implement his promises at least in part. The growing loss of faith also arises from the same source from which faith had been generated: his self-centredness. The loss of faith is increasingly as visible in his own camp as in civil society. The BJP’s Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the multiple traders’ groups and organisations around the country who still admit to having voted for Modi, the youth (the mainstay of his support base) – all of them are restive after what he has done to the economy.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing young entrepreneurs at the Champions of Change programme organised by the NITI Aayog in New Delhi on August 17, 2017. Credit: PIB

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing young entrepreneurs at the Champions of Change programme organised by the NITI Aayog in New Delhi on August 17, 2017. Credit: PIB

The 1,000-word article in the Indian Express by Yashwant Sinha, a long-time BJP insider, would have been quietly ignored if it hadn’t touched the core of the government’s economic failures. Since then, many more straws have been blowing in the wind decisively pointing to its direction. The victory of Ahmed Patel in the face of the mobilisation of every single resource by the BJP demonstrating holes in its image of invincibility; the loss of students’ union elections in one university after another indicating the loss of a huge support base among the youth; the snatching of the BJP seat in Gurdaspur by the “ICU-based Congress” (Amit Shah’s words); The Wire placing before the public the business transactions of Jay Amitbhai Shah, the party president’s son, which the BJP has found so embarrassing because of Modi’s promise of transparency that had created so much euphoria; and the videos on social media depicting either absent or hostile crowds in BJP leaders’ election meetings in Gujarat – are these each an isolated straw or do they cumulate into something of a breeze, if not a storm? It has also nearly checked the prospects of Modi manoeuvring the 2019 elections with the promise of more “vikas” along the lines of what he has delivered. What will then be the issue?

Mohan Bhagwat’s Dussehra address and the more recent RSS ‘samanvay baithak seem to have laid down the parameters of the next election issue. Their plea to the government to keep in mind the interests of the small farmer and medium and small businesses is also an admission of the BJP’s failure on that front. They have, therefore, brought into high focus the alleged security threat posed to the nation by the Rohingya Muslims, in which the Rohingya part is secondary, the Muslim part remains primary. This would enable the government to encircle Muslims as a whole as the single most urgent security threat facing the nation, arguing that Hindus must unite and vote for BJP. A second option, a skirmish with Pakistan, appears a little riskier.

Also read: Modi Loves to Speak. So Why is He Silent on Jay Amitbhai Shah?

A kite was also flown on October 2 when Anna Hazare expressed his desire to relaunch his agitation for a lokpal. Is the Sangh parivar trying to occupy the opposition’s space as earlier?

There remains the TINA (there is no alternative) factor, which will be thrown onto our face as the BJP’s chances slide – ‘Name anyone who will stand up to Modi’s stature’. However, there are two reservations the TINA factor will need to encounter. Recall that back in 2004 when India was shining and the media went gaga about it, when the late Pramod Mahajan had an army of young computer-savvy assistants to help him with the smallest data about the remotest constituency at the tap of a key, when the opposition was completely at sea, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s shining record of governance and foreign policy and no one approaching within a long distance of the respect he universally commanded, the TINA factor did not win the BJP the election.

More importantly, no matter how much parliamentary elections in India have veered towards the presidential form, the system has tended to come back to electing MPs rather than the prime minister. This even more when the candidate’s earlier appeal begins to fade.

Wisest are those who do not take the Indian voter for granted.

Harbans Mukhia taught history at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

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  • Anjan Basu

    Are times changing? The answer is blowing in the wind. Maybe, for now, one has to listen for it, for it is not loud enough yet. But, who knows, it may soon build up to a crescendo, and the 70% that never voted for Modi may be joined by large pools from the hapless 30% that had fallen for his lies and his rantings against the truth, against everything that civilised India holds dear. Modi’s nervousness is palpable: he has heard the answer, too, and that is why his hysterics are plumbing new heights ( or depths).

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    “Name anyone who will stand up to Modi’s stature”

    Stature? Still? Based on what? Statues and bullet trains? Yeah, right.
    The BJP and its excremental friends are basically a single-string guitar, one that can play only a single, discordant communal tune. Hopefully, India has started to realize that it has no other string to pluck and shall elect a government that we and our children deserve – a government that knows that we the people are the boss and gives us the respect that a boss deserves.

  • https://babupaedia.blogspot.in Sudhansu Mohanty

    I can do no better than providing a link to a piece by Prem Panicker titled “Modi, The Mahabharata, and Hubris” and published in the Indus Dictum on October 14, 2017, that captures the essence of Modi’s period of prime ministership – the aspirations, the hyperbolic raised expectations spoken in high decibels with arms flailing on either side, and the gradual turn of the tide, the inevitable disillusionment, and the present besetting denouement that’s fast enveloping us:

    • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

      An excellent article! Thanks for the link, Mr Mohanty.

  • alok asthana

    Yes, his fortunes have reversed very fast. Even if we do not take into account the several excellent surveys done, there is another sure-shot indicator. In 2014 and 15, we, his detractors were treading very cautiously on the media, lampooned by so many of his followers. Now we romp around merrily and easily, only occasionally opposed by some Modi follower. Only the blind will miss this.

  • Anjan Basu

    They must have voted according their own lights — bright or dim — but the fact is incontrovertible that the overwhelming majority did NOT vote for Modi. That, in my eyes, makes the majority far more sensible that you seem to be willing to give them credit for. As for the residual 30%, some voted in the way they did because they hoped a change would be for the better, some were deluded into believing that a bunch of bigots could some day come to their long-lost senses and govern a country sensibly, and the rest were plain fools, walking into their stupid choice with eyes wide shut.

  • Anjan Basu

    Don’t you worry, people will find a way. If they don’t find somebody worth much good, they will make their choice yet again, and again. But the great choice of junking Modi and his bigoted brigade will have been made. And that will gladden far more hearts than you can imagine. Just you wait!

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    As Mr. Basu wrote, people – and democracy, I may add – will find a way. Remember 1999, when BJP got a mere 23.75% of the vote and formed the government with some 15 other parties? See what happened in New Zealand this week? The TINA excuse is the most pathetic defence for electing someone – it is a stupid banality that is trotted out when all other arguments have been blown away by ground realities.
    And since you asked about who is suitable enough to fill Modi’s shoes – let me tell you this: I have always considered Modi as a man with tiny feet wearing outsized shoes. He has been over-hyped, over-praised and over-indulged by a craven media that is in the pockets of industrialists who lick Modi’s feet (or his 56 inch chest) while he scratches their backs. I will never acquit him for the Guj riots and I find him chillingly, frighteningly communal.
    Leave my country and my children in the hands of this man? No way.
    Any of the names you mentioned is better, because Modi has tiny feet – his shoes wont be hard to fill.

  • Mahesh Shetty

    Anyone but him